A Celebrant Funeral? What’s different about it?

Posted by on Sep 15, 2014 in Blog, Funerals | 0 comments

A Celebrant Funeral? What’s different about it?

by Robert Moore


What is a celebrant funeral?

Above all,  celebrant funerals are about celebrating (in the best sense of that word) the life that is just past, and that is the main focus. The second focus is those who are feeling the loss of the person who has passed on.

A clergyman friend of mine some time ago asked me, “What do you do or say at a non-religious funeral?”

It’s a good question, which is complicated by the huge range of beliefs and worldviews held by Australians. Of course, my friend was really asking, “Without religious content, what is there to say?” The bottom line is that the family tells you waht to say!

The short answer is plenty. The long answer is a little more round-about. So here goes . . .


The first task when visiting a bereaved family is to determine the kind of service/ceremony they want. It is ALWAYS their call.

A non-religious funeral is not necessarily a humanist funeral, but it may be. There is a spectrum of values which, on one hand are specifically religious, and on the other hand are totally without any sense of the metaphysical, or of life after death. Amongst Australians, there is also a wide area of belief about the nature of life and the universe that is somewhere in between both these extremes. I usually refer to this third area as spiritual or “shade-of-grey”. People who opt for a spiritual funeral, usually believe that there is a hereafter, or that it is possible that there is.

They also usually tell me that they want a service that contains “no dogma or judgment.” (But equally, I have often been asked to do religious funerals that are also “without dogma, and judgment.”)


And then, who’s organising it?

So, this first task means that the celebrant has to find out where the family is coming from, what they want, and what they don’t want. The proper celebrant funeral must reflect the values and beliefs of either the person who has died and/or the family member/s organising the funeral.

The ultimate arbiter is the person who is commissioning and organising the funeral. And the values, beliefs or worldview of the Celebrant must always be kept very much in the background in determining the content of the funeral.

Once the family has decided where the funeral will sit on the religious/shade of grey/humanist spectrum, then the content can be considered. The usual celebrant funeral service lasts anywhere from 10 minutes . . .  to the longest one I can remember . . . which was 65+minutes.

In case you are horrified at that length of service . . . it almost always depends on the number and length of the eulogy and tributes, and this is the family’s choice. I always make sure that the family always has control of who may speak or not.


And finally, how is a celebrant funeral structured?

After the overall nature of the celebrant funeral has been decided, we then decide what goes into it.

Considerations include things like

  • readings,
  • music,
  • the eulogy and tributes,
  • naming the family,
  • and the conclusion.

These are important, because this is how the service goes from being Standard Service Z to being a special occasion where we can really celebrate the life of the ‘guest of honour’. Particularly important is that it includes emotional content – how the speakers feel about the deceased, the names of those feeling the loss, and so on.

There should be readings, which may be poems or selected pieces of prose. Most celebrants have books of appropriate material, and I have a book of readings which I email or lend to clients. There is quite a well-known book available in bookshops called For Weddings and a Funeral, edited by John Marsden, the title of which is a wordplay, of course, on a well-known film.

There should be music too. Are there any pieces of music which relate to the deceased? Is there an “our tune” for a couple? A special favourite for a person? Sometimes people select well-known songs, like Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings, or Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven, usually for a baby’s funeral. Whether religious or not, Amazing Grace still rates very highly at all funerals. Most funeral directors these days will download the songs you want.

Once these things are done, it is time to attend to the most important thing which makes each service unique—the Eulogy. Sometimes this is done by a family member, and sometimes by the Celebrant. The word itself literally means an opportunity to speak well of someone. This is an important way to celebrate the life of the deceased. In all cases, it will be the family who decide this.

Following the Eulogy, there may be other speakers. This can be the time where the tension is broken, if there is great sadness. Often these other speakers will talk anecdotally (“I remember when old Fred and I used to ….”) and there will often be a few (sometimes quite a few . . . ) laughs.

After this there can be acknowledgement of the family who are experiencing the loss, and perhaps even well chosen thoughts from the celebrant.

The final part of a non-religious funeral is the Committal. This is where the curtains are closed in a funeral chapel, or the coffin is lowered in a burial. At this time there may be a reading, words of commendation for the deceased, or words of appreciation, and finally words to close the service.

A celebrant funeral service is, therefore, a very positive occasion in which the life of the person who has died is given the honour due, and in which the feelings and beliefs of the family are treated with dignity and respect.


If you have to organise a funeral, and wish to have a Celebrant funeral,
feel free to call me, and I will always be happy to advise you
regarding the content of the service, funeral costs, and even the choice of funeral director.

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